Shrieking Shack from Pottermore

This Plot Hole in ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ Drives Me Crazy

There’s a plot hole in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that drives me to distraction, if I think about it too much.

I don’t usually look for plot holes. I have an incredible talent for suspending my disbelief, which is a requirement for any story. Some entertainment junkies are like me, willing to go along with pretty much any plot device. Others, like my husband, can’t enjoy something if it’s not firmly grounded in a consistent reality. In fact, if we see a movie or TV show together, when he questions me about perceived plot holes, I almost always cobble together a fantastic answer, which doesn’t usually satisfy him.

The first time I spotted this giant plot hole in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I had already read it (and the other Harry Potter books) several times. (I lost count.) When I realized it was possible that J.K. Rowling overlooked this problem, the feeling was akin to finding out that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy aren’t real. I was devastated!

Harry Potter Sorting Hat Bath Bomb

Get sorted in the bath!

I still worship J.K. Rowling and admire her unbelievable ability to play the long game for even the tiniest details. For instance, the Vanishing Cabinet makes its first appearance in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It’s referenced again in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when Fred and George shoved Montague into a “broken” cabinet. (Peeves dropped it in Chamber of Secrets, hence the state of disrepair.) And, you’ll remember, it played a big part in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It was seen again in the Room of Requirement in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

So how could she have missed this?

As you’ll recall, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Sirius Black was believed to be a ruthless killer who was out to get Harry. Hogwarts was on high alert. (In the wizarding world, it’s probably something like DEFCON aubergine.) The Ministry of Magic placed Dementors around the perimeter of the school. Dumbledore and the staff increased security measures throughout the castle.

The closest Sirius got to Harry (before Harry made his way to the Shrieking Shack, that is) was the door to Gryffindor tower. The Fat Lady refused him entrance, he shredded her portrait, and she fled to another painting. Of course, all this was discovered after the fact, when Sirius was already gone.

Now, jump ahead to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. At this point, Sirius escaped capture and was hiding out in a cave near Hogsmeade. He and Harry were on wonderful terms, after Harry found out that Peter Pettigrew was the one who had betrayed his parents, and that Sirius was Harry’s godfather. The two of them corresponded frequently through Owl Post.

But remember what happened when Sirius was so distraught over Harry’s latest missive that he absolutely needed to talk to Harry? Hm? Do you remember?

He appeared in the fireplace of Gryffindor common room and spoke to Harry.

Gryffindor Common Room from Pottermore

Gryffindor Common Room CR: Pottermore

Why the hell didn’t he do that in Prisoner of Azkaban? He could have waited until Harry was alone in the common room, or with Ron and Hermione, popped up and said, “Don’t be alarmed. It’s just me, your godfather, Sirius. Guess what? I wasn’t the one who betrayed your parents. It was that dirty, stinking rat who’s sitting on Ron’s lap!” To take it one step further, he could have just used the Floo Network to get his whole body into Gryffindor tower!

Before you say, “Wait, Nancy, he couldn’t have just popped into the fire for a chat. Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall and the rest of the staff had protections in place.” To that I say, bollocks! Because, remember, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, he continued to talk to Harry through the fireplace, even after Umbridge put the Floo Network under surveillance. It wasn’t until Umbridge’s fat, stubby hand reached into the fire to grab him that Sirius decided that the fireplace method of communication wasn’t terribly safe, after all.

Ravenclaw Wooden Box

Wit beyond measure…

And before you say, “Here, now, have a care. He was on the run. He didn’t have a fireplace handy,” I say bollocks to that too. He specifically said in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that he broke into a wizard’s house to use their fireplace.

So, ha! I would give my eye teeth to be able to ask J.K. Rowling about that. She has answered plenty of other fans when they’ve pointed out discrepancies — or what they thought were discrepancies, only to have Jo explain it all away. I would love to hear exactly why Sirius Black didn’t use the Floo Network in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

THAT is the one plot hole in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that drives me crazy.

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This one PLOT HOLE in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban drives me crazy! Find out what it is.

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  1. Huh….Now I’m sitting here stumped trying to rack my brain and wrap my thoughts around this. Interesting thought, but I feel like there must be some explanation…then again, something is bound to be overlooked in that much text over that many books over that long of story. It just happens I think, unfortunately

    • Absolutely! It’s just that I so worshiped J.K. Rowling that, when I saw it, it was a blow. Which is unfair to her! But there it is.

      • Daniela

        In prisoner of Azkaban, Sirius was looking forward to killing Pettigrew. He was not planning to contact Harry, but went after Ron every time.

  2. Amber

    That is a very good point, but you also have to look at it from the point of view of Sirius at the time. Sirius was very much hated by Harry. He couldn’t try to talk sense in the kid not even Harry’s best friends could. Sirius only appeared when he was trying to hurt peter not really to talk to Harry, until of course Remus basically forced him to explain the situation. Even when Sirius entered the tower he seemed to know exactly what he was doing waiting until everyone was out at the feast before going for Pettigrew. I have a theory that Sirius didn’t think he deserved Harry’s forgiveness or didn’t think Harry would listen. More-on Sirius didn’t believe he deserved forgiveness, would have to fall into His time in Azkaban. True, Sirius was innocent but the dementors don’t just leave you alone because your innocent. They attacked Harry even when he didn’t do anything. Sirius has been in an oppressive atmosphere for longer then he knew James Potter. He was only clinging to the belief that’s he was innocent, he must of just accepted that just as everyone was pushing the guilt of the Potters death on him. He realized that was what Harry knew as true and needed to explain in person everything and he needed an alive Pettigrew as proof of his innocence. Sirius couldn’t have just popped into the fire and startled the boy yelling madness. No even Harry would believe him.

    • You might be right. Still, he must have been pretty desperate to shred the Fat Lady, so I think he’d be desperate enough to risk freaking out Harry.

      • Harri

        He didn’t shred the fat lady because she wouldn’t let him see Harry though, he was trying to get to Pettigrew. He wasn’t there to form a relationship with anyone he was just trying to kill the rat.

  3. Kriti

    Harry wouldn’t have believed him. He needed to “show” him that scabbers was Peter Pettigrew and for that he had to be physically present there. He couldn’t have done it by talking through the fire. At the ither instancss he just needed to talk which was possible from the fireplace.

  4. Mj

    This popped up on my Pinterest for some reason and makes zero sense. Sirius was in no way at all trying to reach Harry. All he wanted was revenge on Pettigrew. That’s it. He broke into the common room and went straight for scabbers not harry. I don’t think he ever even thought for a second about harry before the shrieking shack. Your supposed plot hole just doesn’t make sense. Never once does it seem like Sirius is out to find harry, or even Lupin his best friend. He spent so much time in Azkaban all he wanted was revenge. I still think if it wasn’t for Lupin, he wouldn’t have explained much to Harry even then. Him visiting Harry for no reason through the fireplace makes no sense because they had no relationship at all and Sirius just wanted Pettigrew. It would make more sense if Sirius visited Lupin as they were best friend but clearly Sirius didn’t care about anything besides Pettigrew. The big supposed plot hole there is is that harry never noticed Pettigrews name on the marauders map all the time he had it.

    • If he wanted Peter Pettigrew, he could have used the Floo Network, and didn’t. He used it in Order of the Phoenix when he was on the run and in hiding. Still a plot hole.

  5. There is absolutely no way he could have used the Floo network, he was on the run and you cant just floo into Hogwarts, you can only floo into Dumbledore’s office which wouldn’t have been good considering Dumbledore didn’t know he was innocent.

  6. Sabrina

    Sirius did get into Harry’s dorm room. He got past Sir Cadogan using stolen passwords. He went straight for Ron because that’s where Peter was.

  7. M

    Since Sirius had just recently escaped from Azkaban maybe he didn’t have access to any floo powder yet.

  8. Silvia

    Dude, what the hell? This entire “plot hole” can be solved by the simple reminder that Sirius’ number one objective throughout POA, from breaking out of Azkaban to breaking into Hogwarts twice was because HE WANTED TO KILL PETER PETTIGREW. Explaining to Harry the truth about the betrayal of his parents was very secondary! And are you serious, what an unbelievably stupid plan would it have been for him to have appeared in the Gryffindor common room fireplace just to “Explain himself” when harry thoroughly despises him? There would have been no evidence to point to, no way of actually killing Pettigrew – Sirius would’ve simply appeared to be a mad mass murderer whose head appeared in your fireplace trying to convince you he was innocent.

    When you read the Shrieking Shack scene you realise it was actually really unimportant to Sirius to explain himself to Harry – obviously he wanted to do it eventually, but his soul was consumed by the goal of killing Pettigrew. Remember how he kept impatiently telling Lupin to get on with his story, or attempting to kill Scabbers against Lupin’s protests?

    Sirius not appearing in the Gryffindor fireplace has got to be the weakest “plot hole” realisation I’ve ever heard, because it pretty much misses the entire arc of Sirius’ character in that book. It sounds like the theory of someone who’s only read the book once, and several years ago at that.

  9. G

    a) One cannot use the floo network inside Hogwarts without a professor’s permission (most commonly given by Dumbledore or McGonagall but I honestly can’t remember if other teachers can give permission as well . . . But those two definitely).
    b) Harry very deeply believes that Sirius is the serial killer who murdered his parents. If he came popping into your fireplace you would go running out of there and alert the most bada** person you could find (my vote is for McGonagall). It was the conversation between Sirius, the trio, AND Lupin that made Harry start to believe him. Remember that he demanded proof before they killed Scabbers/Pettigrew. By simply popping into the fireplace, the ability to definitively prove to Harry that it was indeed Pettigrew who killed his parents would have been compromised, and Lupin would not have been there to help explain it (and remember, Lupin is someone the trio trust deeply, his voice of reason was a motivating factor in their coming around).

    • I don’t know about b), but as for a), Sirius didn’t get or need permission in “Order of the Phoenix” and still did it.

      • Pol

        Although not mentioned by Order of the Phenix Dumbledore believed Serious to be inocent so probably gave his permission secretly! Also, I see no plot holes as Serious was quite mad at first and only followed Harry to get to Peter.

  10. LB

    Would you have believed a random face in the fireplace? Bs

  11. Nichole

    Okay great “loop” – but you have to understand what the actual plot line of POA is.
    Sirius Black was supposedly out to kill Harry. But, as we learn, that was not his actual motive for anything – he didn’t break out of Azkaban and go to Hogwarts to try and kill Harry. If it were, Kupin (who was equally loyal to the Potters) wouldn’t have ever helped him. So what was his actual motive? It’s made pretty obvious in both the book and the movie. Who actually betrayed the Potters? Pettigrew. And who knew that? Sirius Black. What else did Black know about Pettigrew? He felt safe at Hogwarts, so he must be somewhere on the grounds. Also, Black knew that Pettigrew was an animangus – a rat.
    So here’s how to whole plot falls into place with this, and dispelling your alleged loop hole.
    In the beginning, the Grim (Black) appears to Harry right before he takes the Knight Bus. A man who is free from prison probably wants to see his loved ones, right? So of course he wants to see his godson. Now obviously, Harry has no idea who he is, and then Harry only knows he is an alleged killer out for Potter blood. Yeah, bad time to introduce himself.
    Black then went to Hogwarts to try and find Pettigrew. In his dog form, he becomes friends with a very intelligent cat named Crookshanks who tells him about this shady rat who is definitely not a rat. Black figures this must be Pettigrew and begins planning to murder him.
    He’s not an idiot; he knows Hogsmede is ridden with death eaters and people looking to capture him. There’s no way he is going there. Well, it just so happens that Ron left Scabbers at home during their Hogsmede trips – a perfect time to go into Gryffindor tower, kill Pettigrew, and avoid any casualties or capture. So during a Hogsmede trip, he tries to break in – but the Fat Lady wouldn’t let him.
    Later, Pettigrew knows that Black is closing in on him – so he runs, and ends up in the care of Hagrid. The rest is obvious; Scabbers runs, Black drags Ron into the Shrieking Shack “Sorry about your leg, I WAS GOING FOR THE RAT.” Harry and Hermione follow, Snape and Lupin show up, blah blah blah, Buckbeak and a timeturner save the day. Fantastic.
    So direct answer: Black wasn’t trying to communicate with Harry at all – he was a little deranged from 12 years of prison for a crime he didn’t commit and knew who did. That was his first priority. Avenge his best friend, then create relationship with godson.
    That’s why he didn’t appear in the fireplace. Anyone who saw would say THAT”S SIRUS BLACK and call a teacher and he’d be caught. And if they didn’t, he can’t really kill a rat through a fireplace. Just imagine sweet Ginny sitting by the fire studying and a murderer’s head appears and says, “Pardon the interruption, could you bring me your brother’s rat? I’d like a word.”
    There is no loop hole.

    • S

      Black already knew Pettigrew would be at Hogwarts before he went there. He saw a picture of the Weasley family in the Daily Prophet with Pettigrew as a rat sitting on Ron’s shoulder and recognized him. He got the paper from Fudge when Fudge was inspecting Azkaban and then he decided to breakout as his dog form. Also as an escaped prisoner he would not have had access to most magical things such as a wand or floo powder. Though I have often wondered how he could transform without his wand. That was never explained as could Pettigrew all the years he stayed in his rat form……
      Also something that was in the movie, but not the book? Harry tells Lupin that he saw Pettigrewn on the Marauders Map and mentioned that the map was inaccurate because he believed Pettigrew had been killed by Black. And that is what caused Lupin to go to the shrieking shack after watching the map…

  12. Hira

    Besides if Harry, Ron and Hermione had seen Sirius in the fireplace, they would have raised the alarm telling McGonagal and Dumbledore and the Dementors would follow. Sirius would have been caught.

  13. Sofia

    Personally, I think Sirius was able to break into a house at a later date because people were no longer on high alert. If you were a maximum security escapee and the whole world knew about it, there is no way you’d get away with breaking into the house, especially with how weak Sirius was. Furthermore, Harry wouldn’t have had any proof of Sirius’ story and hearing the “truth” from the “bad guy” is rarely convincing. If a man appeared to me in a fireplace, a man that murder my parents and I knew wanted to kill me, I wouldn’t sit and have a conversation with him.

  14. Heather

    Nah, this isn’t a plot hole — Sirius and Harry had no relationship yet, he rightfully believed that Harry hated him, and even more — he had no idea what kind of person he was and whether Harry would believe him.

    The bigger plot hole in POA that I’ve been wracking my brains over is this: why did Dumbledore have harry and Hermione use the time Turner to go back and save buckbeak/Sirius? Why didn’t he just do it himself? Like…he could have easily done it himself and fixed everything. Why did he send two 13-yr-olds to do it?? They risked a werewolf, dementors, and the Minister!

    • Good points! Although, if you go down that road, there’s a LOT that Dumbledore could have done differently. I don’t want to pull that thread! As for Sirius, he could have gotten into Gryffindor tower that way, if Pettigrew was who he was really after.

  15. Katie

    Sirius didn’t have a wand until the very end in the Shrieking Shack. He couldn’t have used the fireplace or the floo network without one.

  16. So Sirius knew Wormtail was alive the whole time? I thought they didn’t figure that out until Harry saw him on the Murauders Map?

  17. Net

    2 points- 1.) your argument is for how he could’ve communicated with Harry in the Prisoner of Azkaban but it’s important to remember, he was not trying to communicate with Harry. He was trying to find and kill Scabbers/Petigrew. That was his only mission, at that time.
    2.) He began writing and communicating with Harry through owls and Floo powder after his name was cleared by yes Harry but also Dumbledore, the eyes and ears of Hogwarts.
    I hear your points, but in my opinion, they show even more of how brilliant Rowling is because she wasn’t creating a suspense novel, she was creating an entire world with years of history and complex characters which behave just like we do- slightly flawed

  18. Mimi

    If this disturbs you so much, why don’t you just ask Rowling yourself? Like, tweet her or something? She does answer tweets quite well.

    But I think you’ll get something similiar to these comments. Sirius’ goal was to kill Pettigrew, not talk to Harry, and you need a permission to use the Floo network in Hogwarts, which probably Dumbledore gave to Sirius after the events of PoA since he knew it might be useful at some point. Even if this was not mentioned, it wouldn’t be the first time Rowling has cut some information out because it didn’t fit into the planned amount of pages or she just didn’t see it relevant enough.

  19. I have something better/worse. In The Order of Phoenix Syrius dies and Harry see it, so why he dosen’t see the Testrals when the term is over and they are going home for the summer (I checked it in the book, they are travelling to the station in carriages with no horses) !?

    • Hi! I think you’re getting your books mixed up. He saw Cedric die in Goblet of Fire, but doesn’t see Thestrals at the end of the book. However, he does see them at the beginning of Order of the Phoenix, before he sees Sirius die. J.K. Rowling has pointed out that you can only see Thestrals when you can fully comprehend the idea of death, which is why he didn’t see them in Goblet of Fire. He was still in shock.

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